Many of you are too young to remember this but I lived through the print is dead proclamations that happened around 2000. Then I endured the “sales is dead” news that digital marketing software companies started espousing around 2008 or so (ironically I was a sales consultant at the time and was consulted on how to help the top inbound marketing company get more out of their salespeople and sales partners? That’s right and they had a huge sales team)
Every time we hear of a business struggling or going bankrupt it’s not long before somebody jumps on the bandwagon declaring that “something” is outdated and dead. Recently when Thomas Cook went bankrupt there was a mad rush of “experts” eager to blame it on their “retail approach”, their reliance on “interaction with real people” and a “dependency on printed materials.” This was usually summed up with a broad statement like “they failed to keep up with the times”. But what does that mean exactly?
Usually, those proposing the demise of all of these legacy means of interacting with customers are in a space that is predominantly digital and lives almost entirely on the internet, some of these people are pushing their own agenda or products so claiming any alternate is dead serves a selfish purpose. Others are not able to cut it in the real world where human relationships matter and so mocking these methods makes them feel better about their own inadequacy. Bottom line the commentary is usually offered without considering all of the facts and all of the evidence that we see when we simply looking around at how customers are buying.
Those who claim that retail is dead should ask themselves why are Apple stores continuing to thrive. Every time I pass one it seems as if the store is crowded, the people that are there are engaging with the salespeople on the floor and there seems to be a general feeling of excitement. Now I admit that many retailers would like to have this buzz happening, but unfortunately, they usually cannot recreate anything like the Apple stores. But it certainly proves that retail is not dead if anything improves retail is alive and it is just a matter of creating the right formula so that you can connect with the modern customer. In fact, one could easily make the argument that the Apple customer is actually more engaged at their retail stores than customers were ever engaged in any other retail outlet and what some would call the golden age of retail. So the real question is what are stores like apple doing right? And a better proclamation if you feel compelled to say anything is that “retail has changed”.
What about personal service or live interaction with humans? Those in the hundred percent digital space love to point to artificial intelligence, chat and something they arrogantly call personalization. I call it arrogant because they have taken away the one thing that this nomenclature seems to recognize -that of a real person. Would it actually be easier to actually use a real person to personalize interactions with customers? Does it seem to be what Apple has succeeded in doing?
What about the printed material question? It sure is easy in this digital age to point to downloadable brochures e-books PDFs and other ways of transmitting thoughts without actually printing something in a hard copy format. What are the facts? Many people are still buying hard copy books? Many people are still reading printed magazines and journals. Now admittedly the numbers might be down they may not be as many people choosing these formats but one can hardly say that they are dead! To top it off Vinyl records have made a comeback not just against CDs but in the world of abundant digital music services and YouTube.
Is it perhaps more reasonable to conclude that rather than retail being dead the bar has simply been raised to a higher level? Rather than print being obsolete could it be that becomes more specialized? And when it comes to live interaction with a real human being, could it be that although chatbots and artificial intelligence will alleviate many of the mundane days to day tasks, when it comes to having a consultation or a complicated conversation, there is something to be said for having a real human on the other end of the line who cannot only understand what you were asking, interpret that, but can also empathize with the emotions that you were expressing.